The things that enthrall some about Chicago rapper Noname will be the same things that immediately turn others off. Room 25’s total lack of traditional “bangers,” along with her playful, almost childlike delivery are certain to polarize audiences. But for many including myself, they make for one of the most cohesive and thought-provoking album listening experiences of 2018.
Right from the opening jazzy keys of the brief, yet brilliant, ‘Self,’ Noname hits us with the first of many quirky, low-key verses, brimming with hilarious quotables. Her soft-spoken rhymes meld with the instrumental so smoothly it’s as if it’s a part of it. Throughout the album, it is a joy to hear her weave her way around tongue-twisters such as, ‘Mr. Wifing Me Down, Mr. Me Love, Mr. Miyagi.’ The stellar wordplay continues on the following track, ‘Blaxploitation,’ which sees Noname examining black stereotypes in the media with an equal dose of both humour, and laser-focus. The album however can be quick to drop the humor in exchange for brutal honesty delivered with startling conviction, as showcased on, ‘Prayer Song,’ where Noname laces sexual imagery with dark tales of violence to great effect. From heartfelt stories of love on album highlight, ‘Windows,’ to funny pokes at veganism on, ‘Ace,’ this record is near-flawless in its lyrical content and vocal delivery, leaving something for everyone to be amused and/or captivated by.
Instrumentally, Room 25 is gorgeous. From front to back, the album plays as a seamless collage of lavish harmonies and twinkling keys. Even with flourishes of funk on tracks such as the aforementioned ‘Blaxploitation,’ the album comes together so well there is nary a weak spot in sight. This consistency does provide one of few potential issues with the Room 25 however. The album is so consistently mellow and reserved that it may be a tough one for some to fully get into on first listen, if at all. It does also leave us with no single track to return to outside of the album context.
Still, as an album, Room 25 is one of the most finely-crafted of the year. The laid-back production provides a perfect backdrop for Noname’s soft-spoken stories and witty one-liners, making for great first step in the career of one of hip hop’s most unique new voices.
Noname’s Room 25 is out now.By Sam Oakley